NCTS Driver Bobby Hamilton Teleconference Transcript Bobby Hamilton (Driver of the No. 04 Lufkin Pro Series Dodge). Hamilton won the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway last weekend in a dramatic finish that required an...
NCTS Driver Bobby Hamilton Teleconference Transcript
Bobby Hamilton (Driver of the No. 04 Lufkin Pro Series Dodge). Hamilton won the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway last weekend in a dramatic finish that required an official review to determine the winner. Hamilton is also the defending 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion.
Hamilton and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series return to action this Friday, Feb. 25 at California Speedway for the American Racing Wheels 200. The race is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET.
Q: Talk about the increased competition level of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with four returning champions now in the mix as it kicks off its "10 Years Tough" celebration.
Hamilton: Obviously, those guys coming back definitely steps it up a shade. You know I think the competition got a lot stronger last year when Toyota came in. They brought a lot of good race teams in, and everybody knows their financial status and how much their capabilities are. Drivers are drivers. Without good equipment they aren't drivers. I compliment all the manufacturers for making it competitive more than I do the drivers. It's just very, very high dollar technology going into the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series right now, and all of us drivers are pretty lucky to be driving that stuff.
Q: Hamilton finished fifth at California last year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. This year, California is the second race of the season. Share your thoughts on that.
Hamilton: Our equipment has always run well there, and we learned a lot there last year. We had a new style truck there, and we came back and modified it a little bit from what it was there in the fall. So we feel good about it. I think Toyota and Chevrolet used one of their tests out there, so we are going out there without a test. But we have a lot of good tire data with that particular tire that they are running out there. We feel like we have a head start on that. We focus a lot of energy in other areas than most people do when they test. So we'll just have to see how it works out, but I feel good about it.
Q: The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ran under the lights at California last fall and will run at night this weekend. Talk about running at night at California versus running during the day at California or anywhere else.
Hamilton: I think the biggest thing is the lighting is very good out there, so that wasn't quite an issue. But the race track was so cold that everybody fought a lot of tighter condition, and that's because the race track gets a lot more grip when the temperature falls. As that thing wears and the asphalt grays up on it, it will be real temperature sensitive. We have a lot of sunlight out there, and when the sun falls, the race track really changes a lot.
Q: Talk about how running the IROC race last Friday night prior to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race helped to helped prepare you for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Race.
Hamilton: It was the same thing that I was just talking about with the California Speedway. As the nighttime fell, the IROC cars started getting pretty tight, and I knew that (Daytona) is a 'tire' race track more than it is a vehicle deal. I knew that going in, and I told the crew chief (Danny Rollins). I met with him before the race started, and we put a game plan together on how to free the truck up, and it fell right as planned. Every time we pitted, we made an adjustment to keep up with the race track, and that was a huge gain for us.
Q: Talk about Jeff White, the team engineer for Bobby Hamilton Racing, and what his role is. Explain how he plays a critical role in helping the Bobby Hamilton Racing teams get to victory lane.
Hamilton: Jeff (White) works for all four race teams at Bobby Hamilton Racing (Nos. 04, 4, 8 and 18). I don't believe in a bunch of people doing one thing. When I hire people of his status, I like for him to overlook the whole situation. He is just a big support system for crew chiefs to bounce things off of. He'll basically draw them up a handbook every week of what race track we are going to, what particular tire it is, what the characteristics of that tire are, and what the past characteristics of the race track are. So he has all that right there in front of him. When I yell about something I'm not happy with, they just flip a couple of pages and they have somewhat of a menu of what to do to the (truck) to make it work where it's not so much of a guessing game. That's the biggest thing he does -- he takes a lot of guess out for us.
Q: This is the first year that the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series starts with back-to-back racing weekends. Talk about the challenges of the quick turn-around and coming out from Daytona to California to race on back-to-back weekends.
Hamilton: The biggest change for us that we saw was not so much the travel the week after, but that this was the first time that we had to prepare trucks for that event (early). So, basically what happened was that when we loaded up to go to Daytona, our California stuff was done. Usually we have a month (after Daytona) to get it done. There have been times when we have come back from Daytona and built a brand new truck that hadn't even come off the metal rack yet. So that was the biggest thing. But for the whole program, it's a little bit of a tension to do that (race on back-to-back weekends in Daytona/California.) But after it's done, you come back and you have a couple of weeks off and all your stuff is done.
I think I was the one who sort of pushed to have that done (back-to-back weekends in Daytona/California). I talked to Jim Hunter and Mike Helton about it. Because what was happening from an owner's standpoint, was that we would have a month off after Daytona, and all the things that the sponsors would do as far as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to motivate their employees or their marketing programs, well they would have a month off and that would go dead again. It would be like having to reactivate it. So we felt like we needed to close the gap up for the sponsors and keep their program rolling.
Q: Talk about the race and the finish at Daytona. Was your game plan to hang in the back until the end?
Hamilton: That was the game plan before we left to go to Daytona. We had a ton of testing. We went to Talladega twice. We went to Daytona for the optional test, and we spent three days there. What was pretty cool about it was that everybody left the third day around noon time. Everybody said, 'Ok, we're done. We're running fast.' But we had already seen some wrecks in the test session down there where people weren't driving good. So we just flipped a switch and said we're going to work on race runs only for all four teams. We sat out there and drafted together, and drafted and drafted. We must have went through 10 or 12 sets of tires doing it. And then when we got back to Daytona (last week), I ran one lap by myself, one lap at the tail end of the draft to make sure that I didn't have an aeropush, and I parked the truck. They impounded it after two laps of qualifying. We started the race, and we said, 'Hey, we're going to ride around in the back, adjust on this thing, and get it ready for the end.' And it worked out. My other two trucks got into some trouble -- not of their being, but just being in the wrong place. The 18 truck (Chase Montgomery) probably should not have been where he was, but he came out of the pits, and after sequence ended up running second. So he sort of strong-armed into trying to stay up there. But I stayed back there and told them to let me know when there was 15 to go, and then we went to work just to see what we had.
Q: Were you starting to worry that your plan to run in the back until the end of the race wasn't going to work?
Hamilton: No, I had a pretty strong horse. I don't know if you are in any kind of sports or anything or even in business, but sometimes you just get a good feeling about things. I had went up there and tested the waters once. I knew I had a very fast truck, and I knew the two trucks it was going to come down to, and that's who I ended up racing there at the end. I think if you really just sit back and put a game plan together that for the most part it's the best thing to do. It doesn't work out 100 percent of the time. But for the big picture, it was the best way to do it.
Q: Will your plan at California be the same at Daytona -- to not practice much? Or is that something based on the feel of the truck?
Hamilton: Nobody really picked up on it last year, but we didn't run a lot last year. The main reason you ran laps last year was to try to qualify good. Now it is all race runs. Right at the end of the year last year at Darlington, Bobby Hamilton Jr. and I run one lap of practice (each), then we qualified. One of us (Bobby Jr. or me) would have probably won the race if he wouldn't have missed a gear. Kasey Kahne wouldn't have had a prayer on old tires against new tires at Darlington. We just feel like to take care of your equipment and all -- we've got a lot of laps at these places -- that its almost insane to sit there and run the guts out of these things and run them in the ground. Now if you're not driving good, you have to go out there and work on it. But I know in four or five laps if my stuff is going to drive good or not. It either does or doesn't. And if it does, then I am pretty well satisfied with it and know that everything else is left to adjustability.
Q: Will your race strategy change at California or is it going to be the same as Daytona? Will you hang back the first 75, and then come on strong at the end?
Hamilton: You know, last year, I went to the back at California and rode around. We ended up contesting for the win a couple of times at the end, and the truck got tight because of the weather like I was talking about earlier. Those kind of race tracks are very smooth and very forgiving race tracks. If you don't get wrapped up in a lot of stuff at (a place like California) it's possible, but it doesn't have the reputation of that. I'll just take it how it comes. If I qualify decent or if I'm in the middle of the pack, then I'll probably go to the back. If I'm up front, I'll probably try to stay there.
Q: The Academy Awards are also this weekend. Since you're coming to Hollywood, have you seen any of the movies up for an Oscar? If so, do you have a favorite?
Hamilton: I haven't had a chance to watch anything. I've been wanting to see "Meet the Fockers" for months now, and I haven't gotten a chance to. It's all about comedy with me. I really don't pay attention to a lot of stuff, but I will pay attention to the awards to see which ones are up and win. Maybe by the time I get around to watching them, I can rent them.
Q: Talk about the growth of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in terms of its competition, popularity and performance. Do you think it will supplant the Busch Series? Is that a possibility?
Hamilton: I think it is (a possibility), but I think it is a way off. It is definitely a vision. (The Series) has a ways to go. The ingredients are there. The more sponsors that come into it, the more race fans that will get interested in it. We just for some reason keep putting on very good races. And I think its because of the mix of the veterans, and I think its because of the mix of newcomers coming wanting to outrun the veterans. It's just got the recipe to build a great series. As an owner with marketing people here and also the marketing people at NASCAR, we all have a strong job to do promoting that Series. People at NASCAR and myself talk all the time. We need brand identity being the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series because of it being NASCAR. We'll go to several race tracks, and it will say 'NASCAR Busch Series, NASCAR Nextel Cup,' and then it will have an arrow pointing to the right that says 'Truck Series.' I have people ask me all the time, 'When are you going to run some more NASCAR?' You know, I know what they mean, but they don't know the difference. The more we put the word out there, that it is a NASCAR sanctioned thing -- that it is a Nextel Cup car more than a Busch car is, just with a truck body on it -- then the more people will get interested in it. And it will have the ingredients to be as good as the Busch guys.
Q: Are the trucks closer in performance to the Cup cars than the Busch cars are to the Cup cars?
Hamilton: Absolutely. Bobby Hamilton Jr. drives my truck every now and then, and he say he can learn stuff hands down. Wheel base is long on trucks like it is a Cup car. A Busch car is short, very short. They twitch around, and they don't even have the same feel (as a Cup car). And I think that's why (Jack) Roush did what he did with Kurt (Busch). He said, 'I'm not even going to waste my time on a Busch car. I wasted too much time of (Greg) Biffle's time.' And he took him straight out of trucks to Cup. Most everybody who drives a truck now -- even the guys who come back from Cup -- say, 'Man, these things drive just like a Cup car.' You can feel the body difference because of the cab -- the way they stop, they have a lot of aero-drag to them. I drove a Busch car at Daytona. It was the first time that I sat in one for a while. No comparison. I tested a Cup car down there for some people -- very close.
Q: Talk about trucks and road courses. They once raced at road course. Would you like to see the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series go back to road courses?
Hamilton: Yes, I would love to see it. I love road racing. What we have to be careful of because these (teams) are so underfinanced -- it is just hard until we grow the Series to what it deserves to sell high dollar sponsorships. So in saying that, what we have to do is NASCAR has to get a handle on what trucks are running and more or less just allow you to take your short track truck and move the lead from one side to the other instead of guys moving oil tanks and batteries and building all these reverse off-set chassis and bodies and stuff. We've got enough people involved in Cup now that are in the Craftsman Truck Series that they will spend a lot of extra money to just win one truck race and that's something we've got to keep a handle on. Now having said that, we've actually had meetings with NASCAR about that upon their request about how to keep a handle on truck racing, so it is already being talked about.
Q: Talk about what needs to happen to reduce costs for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Hamilton: The biggest thing is that as far as road racing goes, they need to know truck numbers, and I think they are in the process of doing that -- getting the serial numbers on them. And they more or less need to write the rules and say you can change spindles and you can change weight bias. But there won't be any right side trucks or left side trucks whatever race track we're going to. You end up with a little bit of offset in these things. If you start turning right all the time then you cut the car up and reverse the offset of it. Then all of a sudden you want your body hung different with the spoilers hung out the other side and the tops moved to the other side. So basically, what they have to do and they're in the process of doing that with their templates and all, is this is going to be a drivers deal. You're going to take the truck you run at Martinsville. And we're going to allow you to move the lead out of the left side box to the right side box considering the race track, and that's it. And that's the way they're going to have to keep the cost down on it.
Question: Talk about the new rule for qualifying in NASCAR (top 35 in points in Nextel Cup are guaranteed a spot, top 30 in Craftsman Truck Series are guaranteed a spot if they have attempted all the races). Is that a good thing for racing?
Hamilton: You know, you can look at one aspect of it, and say no, that's not a good thing in racing if you have serious racers. But what they are trying to weed out, and I am sort of glad they are, is people coming in, buying a set of tires, making the race and pulling out and parking when you have serious racers that are out there that want to race. The next thing you know, we would have a TV package that is supposed to produce 43 starting sports and eight cars pull out, and there's empty pit stalls and people fighting over pit stalls and stuff. It just really rocks the boat a lot. I am pretty sure that is the only reason they did that. It's just like in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, we had an owner or two to buy points from another race team. Before it's over with, I'm going to say that one of them -- hopefully not -- that one of them will start and park, and it's just not fair to people who want to race every week. I think NASCAR is more or less just saying we're going to try this for a while. We know we're stepping on some toes, but we want the people who are here every week that are going to race. We want people to try and run the whole thing.